Growing up the youngest of three boys, some decades removed from our sibling battles – I’ve grown to appreciate how difficult it was (it is) for parents raising kids. The challenge of trying to give their children freedom to explore new things, to navigate the wide (and extreme) variety of choices, to learn how to work things out for themselves and not have to depend on Mom or Dad to fix things – all of these things are a learning process for both parents and kids. Some lessons learned among the Chern boys weren’t exactly what Mom and Dad intended. When we were roughhousing or wrestling upstairs – whether it was just because we were wild lunatics imitating WWF or because we were fighting over something – my parents always knew what was going on. When it got to a certain decibel, there would be a shout from downstairs “What’s going on?” That we treated like a snooze button on the alarm clock… we would swat it and ignore it. The second shout would be “Boys!” we recognized as “defecon 2″ – that was our reminder not to stop what we were doing, but that we had to be quieter about it. At that point, we could have been in this massive fight with one another and wanting to tear each other limb for limb, but we could still come together in agreement that it was best for Mom and Dad not to know, not to get involved. Eventually though, those rules of engagement and that area of common ground would be breached, as whatever it was we were doing grew more aggressive, dangerous – sometimes even destructive. That’s when we would hear three little words that this was our final warning – this had better stop – here and now. Those three words, whether it was my mother screaming them at the top of her lungs or the equally effective imposing figure of my Father standing in the doorway saying them very clearly and definitively: Cut. It. Out.
Thanks so much for stopping by to read this, my homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 26, 2021, for sharing it on your social media posts and your feedback and comments! For the audio version you can get them at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE. Thanks again… I hope you and yours experience all of God’s blessings today and always! In Christ – Father Jim
Full disclosure, we didn’t always listen. Sometimes that meant we paused things for the moment saying under our breath to the other “I’ll get you later.” Sometimes the fight continued which resulted in people crying, punishments being issued and general unhappiness. In either case, those eventualities occurring, we knew we had brought whatever unpleasantness on ourselves by ignoring that final warning. My parents didn’t want us to be fighting and didn’t want to punish us – that was the reason for the warning to CUT IT OUT. That we hadn’t was ultimately a choice we had made, and we had to deal with the consequences of it.
Cut it out – the memory of hearing those words rang through reading through this Gospel for obvious reasons. This isn’t some parable or story today. Jesus sounds pretty direct, definitive and serious Himself as He talks about cutting off your hand if it causes you to sin; cutting off your foot if it causes you to sin; plucking out your eye if it causes you to sin. That type of language and imagery is pretty graphic and direct enough to understand. Yet looking around – we don’t see anyone self-maimed sitting next to each other at Mass or looking up at the altar and pulpit among priests, or bishops – or even outside of this place, on judges benches, professors offices, any other governmental “seat.”
You don’t have to be a theologian to recognize Jesus isn’t expecting when this Gospel reading is proclaimed for there to be hacksaws or other assorted tools at the doors of the Church next to the weekly bulletin for people to have at this mutilation of our bodies. We get that he’s using dramatic language to catch our attention.
But for the most part, way too many of us easily dismiss it. Hit the snooze button. Yeah, yeah, yeah…. I’ll deal with that when Lent comes around again. Or we imagine that those words are directed to others- the serious sinners, or at least those bums who never come to Mass…. those people who only come on Christmas or Easter… We can easily delude ourselves that simply being here puts us in much better shape than so many others – and we can come up with a list of examples to prove our points pretty quickly (shamefully I will admit, myself included)
But think about the context of this reading. Who is Jesus speaking to? The apostles, the disciples, those who had “left everything to follow Him.” These were the ones closest to Jesus – who not only heard His life-giving words and witnessed His tremendous deeds but were beginning to experience the power of the Holy Spirit themselves and the ability to go and do the same. They had started to work miraculous healings, drove out demons themselves. So obviously they’re not “big time sinners” are they? If you’re Peter, Andrew, James or John, you’d imagine that would be the Jewish religious authorities who had manipulated the Word of God to exert more power and control on the people they better listen up. The Roman occupiers who had enslaved the Chosen people might need to start getting ready to hopping around on one foot… or your general assortments of sinners out in the world: those getting drunk, gambling, prostitutes they need to hear Jesus calling them out with such serious language. But not these guys… his first and closest companions.
But Jesus is speaking to Peter, Andrew, James and John and His closest of friends and followers in this instance. What did they do that was so wrong? They had gone to Jesus complaining “we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” So they could see and hear that whoever this rogue exorcist was, they have had some encounter, some conversion that their life has been transformed by Jesus. And the apostles reactions: They’re jealous… They’re arrogant… They’re possessive thinking they are in control, they are in charge of everything (well Jesus did call them…). They seem to forget that it wasn’t that Jesus taught them a skill or a recipe that made it possible to do those amazing things like casting out a demon. They were doing all those things by the power of Jesus’ name.
The disciples didn’t even realize how as they were following Jesus, striving to do His will and serve Him by serving others – how these thoughts, feelings that were selfish and self-centered, and that out of control pride and ego had emerged. It not only undermined their mission, it was endangering their very souls.
It’s in that space that Jesus launches into this hyperbolic language of cutting off limbs and plucking out eyes – reminding them that the only thing that they are ultimately in control of? Is how do they respond, How are they living as those called by God, as following Jesus Christ? First and foremost in that is recognizing that sin is something serious that we need to treat seriously. Sin is something that needs to be rooted out at it’s earliest stages. The apostles, the disciples don’t even realize that even though they have sacrificed so much that this doesn’t guarantee that these unjustified and unreasonable anger from closing their hearts. They consider this anonymous man who has in some way had his life transformed by Christ as a threat to themselves. So they want to run over to him, grab him and stop him from doing what he was doing…. Jesus counters the lunacy of those thoughts telling them before you go run over to him, grab him and see him as a threat? cut off your foot, cut off your hand , pluck out your eyes if that’s what you want to do. If you’re that fixated on jealousy, arrogance… If you’re that fixated on what you want to do on what you think is right… If you’re that self-centered and focused on yourself and not me – Cut them off. Cut it out.
The context here and now is different. Of all the things that we deal with in our lives, the things that we struggle with, or distract us, people acting in Jesus’ name who are not here with us is probably pretty low on our lists of complaints we want to share with Jesus. But the importance of His lesson that we need to have that same intensity internally about how serious are we recognizing God has called us to be His children? That in our Baptisms, Confirmations and receiving the Eucharist we have made the decision to follow Him. Do our lives demonstrate people striving to live as God’s sons and daughters? Or are we quick to point to everyone else who’s doing far worse?
It’s awesome that we are here. That each of us in our lives has had an encounter with Jesus Christ where we know He is the way, the truth, the life. That we have come to know the importance of this life of faith to make the choice to be here for Sunday Mass- that is great. Just like the first apostles, Jesus is happy that we have responded to His voice and followed after Him. But as He says elsewhere in the Gospel, to whom much is given, much is required. We can’t look at sin as simply these distractions and that as long as we fulfill the minimum requirements like we make it to Mass, we don’t kill somebody and that’s good enough – that we’re basically good people.
Jesus wants us to pursue Holiness. To strive to become Saints. To desire those things. This is not determined simply in this 45 to 60 minutes once a week that we gather to hear His word and receive His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. What does the rest of this day, this week look like? Am I numbing myself consistently with drugs and alcohol? Are there things I’m watching or looking at on television that are outright sinful or leading me into sin? (that can go from something that is outright pornographic to just taking in hours of news that leads me to anger and being uncharitable to people who disagree with me) Have I gotten addicted to mindlessly scrolling through social media? Have I accepted “binging” something on whatever streaming service (think about that, the term “binging” was always associated with destructive behavior – like “binge drinking” or “binge eating” but now it’s almost treated as an acceptable use of our time – as entertainment)
There’s no shortage of things that affect and afflict each of us. And it’s not a matter of looking at a list of things and deciding for ourselves – well that’s worse than this, so as long as I don’t do THAT – I’m not as bad as someone who does. The only self-centered thing that is good to do, is to do an examination of conscience. That’s not something limited for the First Penance or that we hear about during the season of Lent. That’s something that should be done on a regular basis if not every day, at least every week. I’d just suggest do an internet search of “Catholic Examination of Conscience” and pray through it. And as you do, If – or rather – when sins start coming to mind, get to confession. But an essential part to going to confession is to resolve to start seeing those things, those patterns that pop up as a call to make decisive changes. So that I don’t get comfortable with these sins, that I don’t get lazy in my spiritual life.
Jesus when He reacts to John in this Gospel isn’t mad at John. He loves John and He knows John loves Him. Which is why He doesn’t want Him to get distracted by anyone or anything that will undermine that love. The same is true for us. Jesus wants us to be just as vigilant each and every day to reflect on how single minded and focused are we on being His? Where we can see some of the things that we are doing that are obstacles, and hear “Cut it out” not simply as a warning but a reminder of what we want to do… because we simply want Him.